The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the National Investigation Agency (Amendment) Bill. The government said the bill to broaden the agency’s investigating powers was part of its policy of zero tolerance against terrorism and in national interest.
Minister of State for Home Ministry G Kishan Reddy introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha, and sought support from all parties for the passage of it, PTI reported. Reddy said special court judges would continue to be appointed by the chief justice in order to fast-track the trial processes, according to The Indian Express.
The National Investigation Agency was set up in 2009 after the Mumbai terror attacks claimed 166 lives.
Reddy said the new law will allow the agency to investigate cases of terrorism targeting Indians and their assets abroad. It will also empower the agency to investigate cases of arms and human trafficking besides those linked to cyber terrorism, he claimed.
“We want to fight terrorism with zero tolerance and have brought this bill in national interest,” he said. “I pray to all of you for its passage.”
However, Congress accused the government of trying to turn India into a “police state”.
Congress MP Manish Tewari opposed the bill. “The NIA Bill, in 2008, came under specific circumstances after the country felt some unprecedented incidents,” Tewari said. “The constitutional validity of the NIA [National Investigation Agency] Act is not settled as of now. The Bombay High Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the act. The Jammu and Kashmir Court has not yet given its approval. In November 2013, a division bench of Gauhati High Court had spoken of the ‘illegal organisation’.”
He also said that probe agencies were misused for “political vendetta” and “inspired media leaks” from them have turned the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.
But, Union Home Minister Amit Shah asserted that the Bharatiya Janata Party will never misuse NIA law on the basis of religion but instead will ensure it ends terrorism irrespective of the religion of the accused.
He attacked the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance for repealing Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, and said it was not done because of misuse but to “save its vote bank”.
Shah said terror attacks rose after the anti-terror act was repealed by Congress and they were forced to constitute an investigating agency after Mumbai attacks. Parliament should speak in one voice in giving powers to the National Investigation Agency to send out a message to terrorists and the world, Shah said.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Satya Pal Singh said political parties had appropriated terrorism to suit their own interests. “Laws on terrorism must be seen as an effort to clamp down the social evil,” The Hindu quoted him as saying.
The Lok Sabha also witnessed an argument between Shah and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi when Opposition members interrupted Singh. Singh alleged that a Hyderabad Police commissioner was once asked by a political leader of the state to change the course of investigation in a particular case or face transfer. Responding to this, Owaisi demanded that Singh should place on table of the House all records related to his claim.
Shah got up from his seat and while pointing out at Owaisi, said treasury members did not disturb opposition members during their speeches so they should also do the same.
Owaisi asked Shah to not point a finger at him, and said he cannot be frightened.
“When you have fear in your mind then what can I do?” Shah said in response.
The Centre also introduced the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in the Lower House. The bill proposes stricter punishment for traffic violations and simplifies vehicle registration process.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra opposed the bill, saying it provides the public an extension period from a month to a year upon the expiry of driving license, The Indian Express reported. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury too opposed the proposed law.
Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay alleged that the Centre was targeting the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal, and had issued 10 advisories in 10 days, PTI reported. “Why is the West Bengal government being targeted?” he asked. He said such steps were hurting the democratic system.
Meanwhile, Opposition leaders staged a protest outside Parliament in connection with the floods in Bihar and Assam, ANI reported.
Rajya Sabha discusses coal royalty
The Rajya Sabha discussed demands to raise royalty on coal, rolling back steep hike in airfares between Kerala and the Gulf region, and government intervention to help release fishermen captured by Pakistan, among other matters, PTI reported.
Amar Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal said the rate of royalty paid to state governments on coal produced in states was last changed in April 2012 and as per rule was due for revision in April 2015, which the government did not do. He said the royalty on coal should be raised to 20% from the current 12%.
KK Ragesh of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) demanded a roll back in sudden hike in airfares in the Kerala-Gulf sector, accusing airlines of exploiting migrant workers. He pointed out that the Calicut-Dubai flight costs Rs 6,000 while the flight from Dubai to Calicut costs Rs 40,000. He said prices were also increased during festive seasons and holidays, when migrant workers return home.
Congress MP Jairam Ramesh asked the Environment and Forest Ministry to reject clearances provided for a mega port complex in North Chennai. He said the project was a danger to the ecosystem in the region and would affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen.
V Vijaysai Reddy of the YSR Congress Party urged the Centre to bring back 483 fishermen locked up in jails in Pakistan. He said 46 fishermen were captured between October and November. He said the fishermen were primarily from Andhra Pradesh and went to Gujarat for employment. “What was the Indian Coast Guard doing when Pakistan intruded into Indian waters?” he asked.